Chaos in response to Covid-19 is no surprise. Nor is the unscrupulous operators’ pursuit of profit and political advantage * Coronavirus – latest US updates * Coronavirus – latest global updates * See all our coronavirus coverageThe utter chaos in America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic – shortages of equipment to protect hospital workers, dwindling supplies of ventilators and critical medications, jaw-dropping confusion over how $2.2tn of aid in the recent coronavirus law will be distributed – was perhaps predictable in a nation that prides itself on competitive individualism and hates centralized power.But it is also tailor-made for Donald Trump, who has spent a lifetime exploiting chaos for personal gain and blaming others for losses.“I don’t take responsibility” for the slow rate of coronavirus testing in the US, he said.On Friday, when asked if he could assure New Yorkers there would be enough ventilators next week when virus victims are expected to overwhelm city hospitals, he replied: “No. They should have had more ventilators.”Trump has told governors to find life-saving equipment on their own. He refuses to create a central bargaining agent, arguing the federal government is “not a shipping clerk”. This has left states and cities bidding against each other, driving up prices.Andrew Cuomo, the New York governor, described how ventilators went from $25,000 to $45,000 “because we bid $25,000. California says, ‘I’ll give you $30,000’ and Illinois says, ‘I’ll give you $35,000’ and Florida says ‘I’ll give you $40,000. And then, Fema [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] gets involved and Fema starts bidding!“And now Fema is bidding on top of the 50! So Fema is driving up the price. What sense does this make? We’re literally bidding up the prices ourselves.”New York state is paying 20 cents for gloves that normally cost less than five cents, $7.50 for masks that normally go for 50 cents, $2,795 for infusion pumps that normally cost half that, $248,841 for a portable X-ray machine that typically sells for $30,000 to $80,000.Who’s pocketing all this? An array of producers, importers, wholesalers and speculators. State laws against price gouging usually don’t apply to government purchases.Some of it may be finding its way into this fall’s election campaigns. The veteran Republican fundraiser Mike Gula and Republican political operative John Thomas just started a company selling coronavirus testing kits, personal protective equipment and other “hard to find medical supplies to beat the outbreak”. They call themselves “the largest global network of Covid-19 medical suppliers”.Asked how he’d found such equipment, Gula explained: “I have relationships with a lot of people.”Thomas added: “In politics – especially if you’re at a high enough level – you are one phone call away from anybody in the world.”Meanwhile, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner – who’s one phone call away from anyone – is running a “shadow” coronavirus task force that has been enlisting the private sector and overseeing the Strategic National Stockpile of medical supplies, all out of public view.“It’s supposed to be our stockpile – it’s not supposed to be state stockpiles,” he said cryptically on Thursday.Oh, and let’s not forget the giant coronavirus bill Trump signed into law on 27 March, which created a $500bn fund that Trump and his treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, will distribute to the private sector. Most of it will backstop $4.5tn of subsidized loans (ie, bailout money) coming from the Fed, also distributed by the Treasury.In a signing statement, Trump said he wouldn’t agree to provisions in the bill for congressional oversight – meaning the wheeling-and-dealing will be in secret. When the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said she’d form a special select committee to watch how the money is spent, Trump accused her of “conducting partisan investigations in the middle of a pandemic”, adding: “Here we go again … It’s witch hunt after witch hunt.”Is there any doubt Trump will try to use this money, as well as his son-in-law’s secretive dealings, to improve his odds of re-election?Trump was impeached a mere three and a half months ago on charges of abuse of power and obstructing investigations. Eight months ago, he phoned the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, seeking dirt on Joe Biden and threatening to hold up military aid to get it.In June 2016, his son Donald Jr and Jared Kushner met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, after a Russian intermediary contacted Trump Jr with a promise to provide material that would “incriminate” Hillary Clinton and be “very useful to your father”, adding it was part of the Russian government’s “support” for Trump.Donald Trump calls allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election a “hoax”. He called his impeachment a “hoax”. He initially called the coronavirus a “hoax”.But the real hoax is Trump’s commitment to America. In reality he will do anything – anything – to hold on to power. In his mind, the coronavirus crisis is just another opportunity. * Robert Reich, a former US secretary of labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few and The Common Good. His new book, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, is out now. He is a columnist for Guardian US
Two weeks before he was fired, Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson told the Senate’s top Democrat that the past six months had been “a searing time for whistleblowers,” and rebuked public officials who fail to defend whistleblowers when the stakes are highest.
In a letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer dated March 18 and obtained by POLITICO, Atkinson took a thinly veiled swipe at those who had failed to defend the intelligence official who first reported concerns about Trump’s conversation with the president of Ukraine last summer.
“As you know, the past six months have been a searing time for whistleblowers and for those who work to protect them from reprisal or threat of reprisal for reporting alleged wrongdoing,” Atkinson wrote.
“People may spend their entire careers publicly encouraging whistleblowers to come forward and sound the alarm if they observe suspected abuse or wrongdoing in the federal government. Many of those same people proclaim publicly that they will stand by whistleblowers and protect them from reprisal or threat of reprisal when they do sound the alarm. Those repeated assurances of support for whistleblowers in ordinary matters are rendered meaningless if whistleblowers actually come forward in good faith with information concerning an extraordinary matter and are allowed to be vilified, threatened, publicly ridiculed, or -- perhaps even worse -- utterly abandoned by fair weather whistleblower champions. It is precisely when the stakes are highest, and the conditions searing, that public officials must well and faithfully discharge the duties of their offices.”
Atkinson -- who was the first to alert Congress last September about an “urgent” complaint he received from an intelligence official about Trump -- wrote the letter in response to Schumer’s request one month earlier that all inspectors general investigate “instances of retaliation against anyone who has made, or in the future makes, protected disclosures of presidential misconduct.”
Trump waged rhetorical war on the whistleblower last fall, calling for the anonymous official to be “exposed” and “questioned,” while accusing him of having “ties to one of my Democratic opponents” and perpetrating a “hoax.” Some lawmakers used closed-door hearings during the impeachment probe to gather information about the whistleblower and get his alleged identity into the congressional record.
Even Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who has had a reputation for protecting whistleblowers, initially cast doubt on whether the whistleblower at the center of Trump’s impeachment deserved to be treated as one. “If they are not really a whistleblower, they don’t get the protection,” he said in September. He changed his tune in a later statement, saying “this person appears to have followed the whistleblower protection laws and ought to be heard out and protected.”
Trump, for his part, continued the attacks during a press briefing on Saturday, saying that someone should “sue [the whistleblower’s] ass off.”
As for Atkinson, “I thought he did a terrible job. Absolutely terrible,” Trump said. “He took this terrible, inaccurate whistleblower report and he brought it to Congress.”
National security attorneys and intelligence community veterans have long expressed concern that Trump’s comments will have a chilling effect on future whistleblowers who witness government misconduct.
To that end, Atkinson in his March letter reaffirmed his commitment to strengthening whistleblower protections via the ICIG’s Whistleblowing Program, and revealed that the ICIG had begun an awareness campaign at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) “to inform the ODNI’s workforce of their legal right to make protected disclosures anonymously and free from reprisals.”
But Atkinson was permanently sidelined by Trump on Friday night -- he was placed on administrative leave until his firing is made official in 30 days, which is the required amount of notice Trump was required to give the congressional intelligence committees of Atkinson’s removal.
Atkinson's ousted follows that of former Acting DNI Joseph Maguire, who was fired after his staff briefed members of Congress about Russian interference in the 2020 campaign. Maguire was replaced in the acting role by Richard Grenell, Trump's fiercely loyal ambassador to Germany.
Weeks into the job, Grenell has plowed ahead with a series of internal changes despite the president announcing a permanent pick for the director of national intelligence post, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), whose confirmation hearing has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Saturday, the office of the director of national intelligence announced that Thomas Monheim, who has served in top legal positions throughout the intelligence community, was named acting inspector general.
Andrew Desiderio contributed reporting.
President Trump on Saturday slammed Michael Atkinson, the fired inspector general of the U.S. intelligence community, as a "disgrace," saying Mr. Atkinson did a "terrible job" and that he had the absolute right to fire him.
"I thought he did a terrible job — absolutely terrible," Mr. Trump said at ...
President Donald Trump on Saturday defended his decision to fire the intelligence community’s top watchdog, calling the sacked official a “total disgrace” over his handling of a whistleblower complaint that led to the president’s impeachment.
“I thought he did a terrible job. Absolutely terrible,” Trump said of Michael Atkinson, who was let go from his role as the inspector general of the intelligence community on Friday night.
“He took this terrible, inaccurate whistleblower report and he brought it to Congress,” Trump added. The initial report was largely corroborated by witnesses testimony and the summary describing Trump’s phone call with the president of Ukraine, which was the subject of the whistleblower complaint.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump mused about House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) being the whistleblower’s “informer,” without citing evidence. Schiff was the public face of the House’s effort to impeach the president.
“They give this whistleblower a status that he doesn’t deserve. He’s a fake whistleblower,” Trump concluded. “And frankly, somebody ought to sue his ass off.”
Trump’s remarks underscore his deep, long-running disdain toward the officials and lawmakers whose actions led to his impeachment in the House over his alleged efforts to pressure Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rivals.
Despite Trump’s vehement defense of his decision to terminate Atkinson, some Republican senators expressed uneasiness with the president’s actions and praised Atkinson.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, for example, said the firing of Atkinson “demands an explanation.”
The Iowa Republican, who crafted the nation’s whistleblower protection statutes, did not criticize Trump for firing Atkinson, as several top Democrats did when Trump relieved Atkinson of his duties late Friday night. But he said the Trump administration should explain the move in greater detail.
“[Inspectors general] help drain the swamp, so any removal demands an explanation,” Grassley said in a statement on Saturday. “Congress has been crystal clear that written reasons must be given when IGs are removed for a lack of confidence. More details are needed from the administration.”
Also on Saturday, the office of the director of national intelligence announced that Thomas Monheim, who has served in top legal positions throughout the intelligence community, was named acting inspector general.
In a letter to the House and Senate intelligence committees late Friday, Trump informed lawmakers that he was terminating Atkinson because he no longer had confidence in him.
Atkinson drew strong criticism from Trump’s allies after he provided Congress with the whistleblower complaint that detailed Trump’s interactions with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, among other actions by White House and State Department officials.
POLITICO reported on Saturday that Atkinson sent a letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) last month in which he said the past six months were “a searing time for whistleblowers,” and he criticized those who have failed to defend whistleblowers — without mentioning the president.
“Those repeated assurances of support for whistleblowers in ordinary matters are rendered meaningless if whistleblowers actually come forward in good faith with information concerning an extraordinary matter and are allowed to be vilified, threatened, publicly ridiculed, or — perhaps even worse — utterly abandoned by fair weather whistleblower champions,” Atkinson wrote in the letter to Schumer.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) praised Atkinson on Saturday for his “professionalism and responsiveness,” but did not mention the circumstances of Atkinson’s firing.
“Like any political appointee, the Inspector General serves at the behest of the Executive,” Burr said. “However, in order to be effective, the IG must be allowed to conduct his or her work independent of internal or external pressure.”
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a moderate who often criticizes Trump’s conduct, said Atkinson’s removal was “not warranted” and that Trump’s explanation was not “persuasive.”
“While I recognize that the president has the authority to appoint and remove Inspectors General, I believe Inspector General Atkinson served the Intelligence Community and the American people well, and his removal was not warranted,” Collins said in a statement.
Top Democrats strongly condemned the move, dubbing it an abuse of power and an act of politically motivated retaliation. Michael Horowitz, who chairs the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, lauded Atkinson for his “integrity, professionalism, and commitment to the rule of law.”
“That includes his actions in handling the Ukraine whistleblower complaint, which the then Acting Director of National Intelligence stated in congressional testimony was done ‘by the book’ and consistent with the law,” Horowitz added.
A congressional source said that while the House and Senate intelligence committees were given the 30-day notice of Atkinson’s removal as required by law, he was immediately placed on administrative leave, meaning that his tenure effectively ended Friday night.
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.
Over two weeks ago, Donald Trump embraced the idea of being a "wartime president." Yet more than two months into an unprecedented attack on our country, Trump continues to push the nation ever deeper into the hole he dug through his punishing ineptitude. All the while, the so-called “wartime president” has inexplicably refused to employ the powers uniquely vested in him as president to help the country claw its way back out. Far from leading, Trump has ensured the coronavirus will wreak "vicious" (to borrow his term), extensive, and prolonged damage on the nation he pretends to lead in front TV cameras every day.
First and foremost, Trump still has not issued a national stay-at-home order. Even Trump's de facto coronavirus spokesperson, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, seems baffled by the inaction as the U.S. now dominates the world in confirmed coronavirus cases and our hospitals buckle under a crush of patients requiring critical care. “If you look at what’s going on in this country, I just don’t understand why we’re not doing that,” Fauci told CNN Thursday of a national directive from the president.
On Sunday, Trump did extend voluntary social distancing guidelines through the end of April. But Washington Post reporter Ashley Parker explained on MSNBC Thursday that Trump was largely backed into a corner on the issue. Since about half the states had already implemented statewide stay-at-home orders at the time, Trump came to the "realization" that he couldn't "overrule the governors." It's classic lead-from-behind posturing. Trying to get the nation back to work would have just made Trump look weak, so he caved.
Nonetheless, Trump still spent the week dithering on whether GOP governors like Ron DeSantis of Florida—widely viewed as an emerging hotspot with an extremely vulnerable retiree population—should implement a statewide directive. DeSantis finally did issue that order Wednesday, specifically saying he took Trump's extension of the national guidelines as "a signal" that "it’s a very serious situation." In other words, DeSantis used an action Trump was forced into taking as cover for finally issuing a directive he should have given weeks ago when spring break revelers started flooding Florida's beaches. Yet in the mold of Trump, DeSantis left giant holes in the statewide directive—still excluding beaches (though many counties have acted on their own) and religious services. Still, by week's end, nearly 40 states had issued statewide stay-at-home orders of some kind. Naturally, all the remaining holdouts were headed by Republican governors.
But what is made glaringly obvious by the hodgepodge of varying statewide directives amid the nation’s most massive public health emergency in a century is the chasmal lack of leadership coming from the nation's chief executive. Trump's extraordinary failure started with testing—which continues to be in short supply to this day and is presently dooming the capacity of rural states to contain the virus just like it kneecapped New York at the outset. Every day the federal government continues in its failure to make efficient testing widely available, the country is paying the price in lost lives and extended economic fallout. There is simply no way to contain a virus when you can’t track where it is.
Next Trump has failed a million times over to provide the proper medical equipment needed so badly by hospitals across the country, with the shortage presently being felt most acutely in New York. Medical workers have been forced to protest for this life-saving medical gear even as Trump simultaneously accused them of stealing the materials this week. Trump has also refused to use the power of the federal government to centralize both the production and distribution of this material, which has left states and counties bidding against each other—and even the federal government—to obtain the precious resources.
“It’s like being on eBay with 50 other states, bidding on a ventilator,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo explained at a press conference this week. "And then FEMA gets involved and FEMA starts bidding. And now FEMA is bidding on top of the 50," Cuomo added of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
But the bidding war is just one of an exponential number of insurmountable hurdles states have confronted in getting the equipment they need. Some materials are arriving in unusable condition, such as rotten masks or broken ventilators (which are extraordinarily complex, parts-intensive machines). The distribution of materials is also entirely inequitable and based on preferential treatment rather than who needs the resources and when. In theory, since the apex of the crisis is staggered for states across the country, the nation should be able to pool resources to deploy on an as-needed basis around the nation. Instead, a state like Florida has gotten the full complement of materials its governor requested from the federal government because Trump considers the state "so important for his reelection," as one White House official put it. Meanwhile, Trump has publicly questioned whether New York really needed as many ventilators as Gov. Cuomo estimated and then turned around and blamed Cuomo for not having enough to begin with. "They should've had more ventilators," Trump said Friday, refusing to reassure New Yorkers they would get the ventilators they so desperately need. Trump’s latest coronavirus czar Jared Kushner also said Thursday that the federal government finally made a shipment of much-needed N95 masks to New York after Trump heard “from friends” there that the city was running low on critical supplies. Not the governor, not the hospitals, “friends.” Trump has also singled out certain governors for abuse and derision. "Don't call the woman in Michigan," Trump told Vice President Mike Pence last week of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who had dared to suggest the state needed more help from the federal government.
Finally, there's the matter of national messaging, which Trump has personally screwed six ways to Sunday. Friday, Trump provided yet another perfect example of his bungling when he announced new CDC guidelines urging people nationwide to wear nonsurgical masks when they're out in public. Moments later Trump stressed that the guidelines were strictly voluntary and he would likely ignore them personally.
"It's voluntary, you don't have to do it," Trump said. "I don't think I'm going to be doing it."
Frankly, trying to sum up the massive deficit of coherent leadership from the White House and the president himself at this most urgent moment in our history is nearly impossible. Team Trump hasn't just consistently failed the American people, it has undoubtedly and irrevocably made matters worse. More Americans will die. More Americans will suffer profound financial hardship. More Americans will never see a loved one again.
New York-based disaster preparedness Dr. Irwin Redlener was almost speechless Friday while trying to explain the scale of the ineptitude we are witnessing. "I can't understand why we got so incompetent," said Dr. Redlener, whose son works as an ER doctor in New York and has already lost colleagues close to him. Redlener said he had been reviewing the impeachment articles that were passed by the House and acquitted by the Senate. "They seem naive compared to the incompetence we're seeing in this pandemic crisis, it's shocking," he said, adding, "it did not need to be like this."
No, it did not. Competence matters. Government matters. Public service matters. Integrity matters. Humanity matters. Life matters.
Trump doesn't value a single one of those things as they relate to anyone but himself. Not one. Our country will be paying the price exacted by his hideousness for years if not decades to come, not to mention the incalculable toll on each and every one of us individually.